Biden: 1M sign up for health care during special enrollment

Health

Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks about the economy, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, May 10, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that 1 million Americans had signed up for health insurance under “Obamacare” during a special enrollment period for those needing coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden reopened the HealthCare.gov insurance markets in February for a special six-month sign-up opportunity that will go through Aug. 15. His coronavirus relief package also boosted taxpayer subsidies, making the coverage a much better deal for new and current customers.

“Health care is a right, not a privilege — and ensuring that every single American has access to the quality, affordable health care they need is a national imperative,” he said in a statement.

Biden has promised to build on President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act to push the U.S. toward coverage for all. He said the law known as “Obamacare” has been “a lifeline for millions of Americans” since it became law more than a decade ago.

Biden said the U.S. had made “enormous progress” in expanding access to health insurance through this special enrollment period.

However, the 1 million figure announced Tuesday by the White House also includes people who would have otherwise qualified for a sign-up opportunity, even without Biden’s special enrollment period.

A life change such as losing workplace coverage or getting married is considered a “qualifying life event” that allows people to sign up any time during the year. Last year about 390,000 people signed up because of life changes from Feb. 15-Apr. 30, the government said, and in 2019 it was more than 260,000.

So the net number of new customers who could not have enrolled this year but for Biden’s action is likely lower than 1 million.

The number of uninsured Americans has risen because of job losses due to the economic hit of the coronavirus, but last year President Donald Trump’s administration resisted calls to authorize a special enrollment period for people uninsured in the pandemic.

Failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as Trump, a Republican, repeatedly vowed to do, was one of the former president’s most bitter disappointments. His administration continued trying to find ways to limit the program or unravel it.

A Supreme Court decision on Trump’s final legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is expected this year.

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